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Paste Goes to PAX East: Watch Dogs

March 29, 2013  |  10:00am
Paste Goes to PAX East: <i>Watch Dogs</i>

The annual PAX East is the largest gaming convention on the East Coast. Last week regular contributor J.P. Grant braved the miserable weather of Boston to chronicle this year’s convention for Paste. (It helps that Boston is his home.) Today we wrap up J.P.’s look at some of the biggest and best games shown at the event.

Watch Dogs
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, PC, PS4
Release Date: Holiday 2013
Price: TBD

Ubisoft didn’t have a playable build of Watch Dogs, their upcoming third-person action game, on the expo floor. Instead they screened two short videos for the fans who had waited in an hours-long line. The first featured Creative Director Jonathan Morin describing the concept of “smart cities”—metropolitan centers where essential functions like traffic control, crime prevention, and power grid management are built upon a “city OS,” a network of constantly flowing data from omnipresent surveillance devices. The near-future Chicago of Watch Dogs is such a city, and vigilante protagonist Aiden Pearce has hacked his way into control of it. From his mobile device, he can overload electrical boxes, switch traffic lights, and even make train cars grind to a halt. The city itself becomes a weapon.

“Every system in our game talks to each other,” Morin says, implying that your actions may have ripple effects beyond their immediate ones. He seemed to be describing tangible physical consequences—for example, that stopping traffic would slow police response—but he could have also been speaking more esoterically. As I saw in the second video, which showed gameplay footage, Aiden’s actions will garner positive or negative press coverage, which appears to act as a form of morality system. Aiden himself is cast as a paranoid man with a troubled past, a potentially interesting backstory that could just as easily devolve into a tired revenge fantasy.

Watch_Dogs_HackFuseBox.jpg

More interesting to me was the chance that Watch Dogs just might fulfill the promise of last year’s disappointing Syndicate reboot. Aiden’s mastery of information may actually allow for complex interactions with the game world and story. As he walks through the streets, data points hover above passersby: names, occupations, criminal histories. In one sequence shown in the video, Aiden sees a woman with a restraining order against her ex-husband about to be beaten by said ex-husband, and chooses to play hero by beating the guy to a pulp before he can strike her. It’s Batman by way of Minority Report, I guess.

Ubisoft promises random events like this will help players construct their own emerging narratives, although it remains to be seen how well this will work in practice. The second video also hinted, somewhat obscurely, that Watch Dogs may have some kind of companion mobile app and/or synchronous multiplayer—although these are just guesses. Graphically, the game is stunning, a good test case for the Playstation 4. We’ll find out this holiday season.

J.P. Grant is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamers With Jobs, and other outlets. He blogs about games at Infinite Lag and is also on Twitter.

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